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Fifty Shades of Well-being – Investing in the Whole Person

Amy Cohen

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Good friends and family, a successful career, plenty of money, prestige, or a great physique — depending on whom is asked ask – can make life worthwhile. But, when measuring life’s satisfaction, there are key elements including, but not limited to, emotional, occupational, physical, spiritual, intellectual and social well-being that must be considered.

Companies with a goal to improve the health of their workforce through wellness programs may be missing the mark with too narrow a focus on physical health. Common components of wellness programs include biometric screening tests for physical measurements, incentives, walking and fitness programs, weight-loss contests and an overall push to stop smoking, eat right and exercise. While these are useful and productive goals, physical well-being is only one of several essential elements.

Thriving Not Just Surviving

A trend that links the health of a workforce and the overall performance of a business has emerged. Imagine an office building with a worker at her desk. The clock on the wall shows 10 minutes after 5 p.m. There are 51-unread messages in her inbox and a large, empty cup of mocha next to the phone. Overwhelmed, limited time and at-risk health is easy to relate to during the course of her day’s work.

Now deduce how the rest of this worker’s evening will play out. Assuming she leaves the office before 6 p.m. That’s quite late to think about preparing or cooking a healthy dinner, meaning drive- through, take-out or processed food is likely to be on the menu. By the time she arrives home, she is wired from caffeine, sluggish from the sugar intake, and ready to crash on the couch. She may even have a few glasses of wine to relax. If she has a family, then she has added responsibilities of children. There is little if any energy to spend quality time with a spouse who also has issues.

This late, busy and unsatisfying evening affects the quality of her sleep and, likely, the amount. Poor sleep leaves this worker less likely to exercise and more likely to eat a high-sugar breakfast, head out the door the next morning and start over! This lifestyle isn’t sustainable. This worker can’t be happy and satisfied. Most private-sector companies are in the business to make money. People are known to do better work and be more productive when they feel good, which makes less stress and control of life and jobs more sensible.

Beyond Physical Well-being

Physical  well-being  is  sustained  by  lifestyle  behavior  choices including eating nutritious foods, getting enough sleep, quitting smoking, exercising and getting proper health checks to avoid preventable diseases. Worksite health programs have been in existence for some four decades, focusing on physical health. Studies show that 67 percent of Americans are still overweight, 60 percent do not exercise, and 83 percent report high to moderate stress levels, 21 percent smoke and 56 percent have at least one chronic disease. To have sustainable results, promoting better thinking patterns and constructing organizational well-being focused on multi-dimensions is needed.

If the goal is to motivate healthy lifestyle behavior choices, modifications must be targeted. Abraham Maslow’s theory of a hierarchy of needs states that people need to fulfill basic needs before moving on to more advanced wants. Maslow’s five levels include:

  • Physiological needs, such as the basic need for food, water and sleep.
  • Security needs for safety, such as shelter, healthcare or employment.
  • Social needs of belonging, relationships with friends, family and companionship.
  • Esteem needs, such as feelings of accomplishment and self-worth.
  • Self-actualization concerned with personal growth and potential.

Aligned with this hierarchy — as defined by the National Wellness Institute — are the six dimensions of well-being, which include emotional (thoughts, feelings and behaviors), occupational (work-life balance), physical (physical activity, healthy eating and personal responsibility for healthcare), spiritual (personal values and beliefs that provide purpose), social (meaningful relationships and companionship), and intellectual (creative and stimulating activities). Other dimensional models include environmental (understanding of one’s personal impact on the environment) and financial (understanding of and preparation for financial changes).

The dimensions are all interrelated. The person struggling to make mortgage payments and at risk of home foreclosure is less concerned with personal salt intake and 30 minutes of daily physical activity. An employee who eats a nutritional diet, has a healthy body weight, but is under immense stress from acting as a caregiver to aging parents and/or young children while balancing a career, could be more at risk for illness or disease. Stress is linked to high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes and depression.

Case Studies

Crowley Maritime Corporation, of Jacksonville, Fla., provides an excellent example of an effective wellness program — called Live Well — that has utilized a multi-dimensional focus to benefit employees since 2012.

“It’s so important to pay attention to all facets of well-being,” said Katy Keene, manager of employee programs at Crowley. “We spend a lot of time promoting employee benefits, encouraging use of our employee assistance program and setting up financial wellness classes. Our next quarterly wellness challenge campaign, ‘No Time like the Pleasant,’ is a six-week stress management and resiliency challenge.”

More companies are adopting the same view, in that the dimensions are all interrelated. The person struggling to make mortgage payments and is at risk of home foreclosure is less concerned with salt intake and 30 minutes of recommended daily physical activity.

Gulf Power in Pensacola, Fla., has been targeting younger population to get them involved in budget and retirement planning.

“As a nation, we are so in need of resilience training,” said Deborah Napier, health promotion manager at Gulf Power. “We are rolling out a series of seminars, such as ‘Love and Money for Couples’ and ‘Caring for Aging Parents’ while promoting EAP services, but also touching on the financial and emotional stressors for employees who are in the sandwich generation; those tasked with caring for their children as well as their aging parents.”

Organizations with programs like Gulf Power understand that an employee who eats a nutritional diet, has a healthy body weight, but is under immense stress from acting as a caregiver to aging parents and/or young children while balancing a career and the stress that go along with these common scenarios could be more at risk for illness or disease. Stress is linked to high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes and depression.

Resilience

Successful wellness programs focus on all dimensions of well-being, understanding that many of the choices people make every day are emotional rather than knowledge- or information-based. Stress, dissatisfaction, relationship difficulties, and frustration at work or home lead people to cope in unhealthy ways, such as drinking  too  much  alcohol,  eating  high  carbohydrate,  fat  and sugary foods, smoking and other destructive behaviors that may soothe in the short-term, but damage in the long-term.

These ongoing obstacles are part of life and programs that focus on resilience can better prepare workers to overcome the fluctuating challenges of work and home to achieve a more satisfying quality of life. Resilience programs would trickle into each dimension of well-being mentioned above. Programs that encourage:

  • Volunteering, learning hobbies, carving out time each day for fulfilling moments, which better prepares them to manage stressful situations that arise.
  • Relaxation techniques like breathing exercises, mental imagery and other means to return to a calm state of mind and body.
  • Positive reframing of making a conscious effort to put things into a different perspective.

Cultural Adjustments

Creating a culture of health is much more than putting healthy foods in the vending machines. Other ideas include:

  • Comfortable workstations. Proper alignment to avoid injuries and sore muscles, with frequent stretch breaks.
  • Clean working space.
  • Sick days. Policies that encourage employees to stay home when they are sick to avoid spreading germs to other staff.
  • Flextime. Allows for a reasonable balance of work and home responsibilities.
  • Walking  Meetings. Relieve tension, put people on the same level to communicate more equally, revives energy while increasing blood flow.
  • No emails after 6 p.m. Sets the standard that work is not expected during off-hours.

Breaking the boundaries of well-being at the workplace will lead to a more successful, productive, and profitable company. An organization where employees have a better work-life balance and benefit from less stress related illnesses, such as high blood pressure, heart attack, chronic fatigue, diabetes and depression, are going to be more creative, productive and motivated.

About the Author

Amy Cohen is the President of Inspired Perspectives, LLC. where she works hand-in hand with a wide variety of organizations to help them develop workable strategies, and identify affordable ways to get the most out of their health communications.

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